“Once you’ve ruined your reputation, you can live quite freely.”
Ren and I had to traveled to Key West once before to teach a freediving course with PFI. At that time we spent two days diving the Vandenburg and filming, Defending the Vandenburg. If you haven’t seen it yet scroll right back over the title right now and click on it! Ren worked hard to make a spur of the moment video shoot turn into something close to golden. The short video won 1st place in the amateur division at the North Sea Film Festival. We spent a couple days diving for fun with our PFI buds, then transitioned into instructor mode and taught an Intermediate level course. We try to squeeze every bit of possible fun out of the moment when we’re hanging with PFI, who we don’t get to see often enough. We tramped around Key West drinking and people watching. All in all I got a particular impression of the small key, Duval Street, debauchery and homelessness. We never saw the waterfront or Hemmingway’s place. We didn’t get to hang out with salty sailors or check out the huge Schooners at Schooner Warf. We didn’t even eat Cuban food or Key Lime Pie. I left, satisfied having spent time with our friends but without a dying urge to go back to the place where people go to “drop out of society”.
Thank doggy paws that we had the opportunity to get back, by sailboat, which is the preferable method of transportation to anywhere, especially Key West. As we entered the harbor entrance we pulled up just outside of Key West Bight and dropped the hook at about 3:00pm. After a hot cruise with the wind in your hair, but not in the romantic “blowing in the wind” kind of way, in a continuously wrapping itself around your mouth and turning your hair into something resembling greasy pasta noodles, it was time for a quick swim around the boat. Nothing dries up the grease like a little salt water. I jumped into the water and swam around the boat a few times, daring Oreo to jump in. Which he didn’t. He would never jump in, he would definitely bypass jump and go straight to stumble and fall.
We stayed in that night and most of the next day, finally deciding even Key West would be a welcome diversion from the cramped quarters of Nila Girl’s cockpit. Plus, Oreo really appreciates it when he doesn’t have to pee (or poo) on the boat, please see earlier post titled, “Two Humans and an Oreo Boy”. Once on land he will, however, pee on everything short of people’s feet, and this is only avoided by having him tethered to a leash where Ren and I can yank him away from feet and bags. Not without a fight though! We loaded up Dinky with a dry bag full of provisions we wouldn’t really need, a leash, a bailing cup and a flashlight and headed for Key West to meet up with our new buddy, Jay.
Confession. Before, while we were still in Big Pine Key, we had traveled to Key West on a day trip with our friends aboard Ohana. Check out their blog. Through our bud’s Tony and Ella aboard Ohana, and their new baby, Mellia, we met some new people and had drinks on the beach. Here we hooked up with a guy named Jay who is an aspiring freediver and strangely enough graduated with the same major as myself, from UNCW and plays ultimate frisbee. This was my kind of new friend!
So we met up with Jay at a bar in Mallory Square, which proved to be a really neat, eclectic part of Key West that I didn’t even know existed. A few beers later, we made our way down to the waterfront where everyone relieved themselves of the beer we just drank. I squatted behind a rock and went while keeping a close eye on the homeless guy lingering on the other side of the dock. Ah, Key West! After the pee break it was time to trek on over to Amigos. Amigos, the home of the square taco, burritos and plastic souvenir cups! Also, the best spot in the Keys for people watching. Jay’s girlfriend, Rachel, works there and was happy to have at least one familiar face take up part of her section for a little while. Since a lot of bars and restaurants in Key West are open air, Oreo was pretty welcome almost everywhere we went. We stuffed our faces with tex-mex style cuisine and Dos Equis Amber, although I prefer the Lager. If you ever happen to find yourself down in Key West, I highly recommend bellying up to the Amigos food bar, which faces out to the street and check out the commotion. The streets are filled with drinkers, some dressed in costume (pirates mostly), some hardly dressed at all (females mostly). Enjoy the hedonism for a minute and remember to wipe the guacamole from your mouth..
Having achieved a pretty nice buzz it was time to part ways. It was essential to get back to the boat before we blew our allowance on alcohol. Besides that, the sailboat is not the most hospitable place to battle a hangover. Ren and I limped back to the boat and serenaded each other with sloppy guitar.
The next day, needing some fresh air, we headed back over towards Key West Bight. Along the way, we “rescued” a fellow dinghy captain whose engine had quit (Sidenote: later, on our way back through Key West from the Dry Tortugas we heard report of a flare being fired near the bight. We monitored the USCG station 22A and learned that a dinghy had sunk and the pilot fired a flare. We later learned that the sunk dinghy pilot was the same guy we “rescued”. Small community I guess). This captain, Troy, imparted a HUGE pieces of helpful information to us. There is a dinghy dock in Key West. All dinghies use this dock, they don’t just tie up underneath a restaurant dock, hoping not to get caught like we did the night before. Well, news to us! We followed his directions to the dinghy dock where we observed a rugged sight. We fought our way through over 50 dinghies in varying stages of dilapidation. Some were bright grey, just off the West Marine shelves. Some you could only see because a tattered grey line hung the bow of the dinghy like a noose to the dock cleat. Other’s were dressed in bits of weather worn denim, canvas and other pieces of cloth, I assume for sun protection, these ‘quilted’ dinghies were hideous. Dinky pushed and pulled through the crowd to an acceptable dockage space. We tied off, departed ways with the hapless Captain Troy, and sauntered down to Schooner Warf taking this quiet, Oreo-less opportunity to have some “grown up time” and check out the mammoth schooners of Key West, including but not limited to, Key West’s flagship schooner, Western Union.
Western Union is nestled between a couple of other schooners but is unmistakable by her sheer size. Her whitewashed hull and wooden masts draw you in as you stare at her massive stern with big gold letters running across, “Western Union”. The Western Union is an original, old vessel (with some renovations of course) that was used to run cable throughout the Keys to Cuba. She is a floating museum that is run by a non-profit organization which offers a variety of services, most interesting to us, sunset cruises. Now you would think that after all this time on a boat the last thing we would want to do for entertainment is take a boat ride, you are mistaken! When confronted with a vessel of this size and beauty you become a bit nostalgic (for a time when you didn’t even exist). Pirates dance around your head and songs like, “Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum” echo in your brain. We gawked until drool started dripping from our mouths. To our rescue came a guy with a blue collard shirt and an embroidered “Western Union” on the left breast. He kindly took the time to wipe the drool from our mouths with a napkin, saving us further embarrassment. The man smiled at us and asked us about the little black and white beast he saw us walking around with yesterday. He has noticed Oreo (who couldn’t?). We told him it was grown up time and that the little guy was back on Nila Girl, on pirate watch. Captain Lynn, as we would come to know him started right in with chit chat about sailboats (go figure), our boat in particular and our sailing itinerary. We enjoyed the conversation and were surprised and elated when he invited us to join him and the crew on the sunset sail, departing in 15 minutes! We jumped out of our pants, landed, put our pants back on and hopped aboard the historic vessel. Derrick, the first mate who happened to be from NC (all the best people have roots in NC, although I may be bias), informed us that the bar was open, wink wink. The proverbial icing on the cake was an open bar to complement our complimentary sail! Holy crap, maybe good things to happen to those who can’t afford to go on the boat ride without a little charity.
The sail started and despite wimpy winds, the many huge sails on Western Union managed to pull us out of the bight and into the big open waters. The sail is accompanied by a stellar crew, Captain Lynn and Derrick as I mentioned, Brian the bartender/doom metal guy from Tampa, and the two brothers who were really interested in our adventure. Good people all around. We were serenaded with live music, which included a hammered dulcimer and some fun “Haul Away” songs which Ren and I still sing even though we can only remember four words. The sun began to set, sans green flash, and we fired the canon, twice! Whether or not a cannon was really loaded into the gun we will never know. Captain Lynn assured us we hit a boat though. It must have gone down fast because no one else saw it. The trip was concluded with a stargaze. A pointing flash light was used to point out different planets, constellations, etc. Super cool stuff! $10,000 was promised to whoever could find the first satellite. Ren, of course, with his x-ray vision found it. We are checking our accounts daily looking for the deposit. Haven’t seen it yet but probably will soon.
The end to a perfect evening, Amigos one more time and a nightcap down at the Schooner Warf Restaurant/Bar. We collected our Coors Lights (with lemon of course, because we are classy) and headed over to a not so quite corner where we found, who else, the crew of Western Union. Man, if we didn’t like this crew before we really did now! We clinked Coors Lights and Bud heavies and chatted about real life (they were all living one).
On our return from the Dry Tortugas, days later, we stopped back by the Western Union while in Key West to say hey to our friends one more time before heading back north. We never saw them again but will be sure to look them up next time we’re in Conch Country.